NYNDK – The Hunting of the Snark – Jazzheads JH1175, 46:37 ***1/2:
(Ole Mathisen – saxophone, clarinet; Chris Washburne – trombone; Soren Moller – piano; Per Mathisen – bass; Tony Moreno – drums)
Jazz quartet NYNDK is multinational, multilingual, multi-continental and multi-layered. That’s a lot of multiples and one reason is because the group consists of Chris Washburne (trombone), from New York City (NY), saxophonist/clarinetist Ole Mathisen and his brother Per (bass) from Norway (N) and Danish pianist Soren Moller (DK). On their latest sojourn, The Hunting of the Snark, the foursome turns into a five piece with guest drummer Tony Moreno (another NYCer). Another reason the ensemble has so many multiples is the use of different genres mixed into the 47-minute album: post-bop, modern creative, avant-garde and classical, including music written by American, Norwegian and Danish composers.
Although nearly half of The Hunting of the Snark is devoted to group compositions, NYNDK also strives to confer a preference to classical material: eight such cuts are regenerated into fresh and unique presentations. NYNDK starts with unusual interpretations of three Charles Ives pieces, probably not the first composer most jazz fans think of for some finely-wrought improvisation. All three tunes swagger with a swinging demeanor. Washburne’s trombone commingles with Ole Mathisen’s saxophone on a muscular manipulation of "The Cage": the song incorporates angular sounds and a sauntering groove into a noteworthy outcome. "1, 2, 3" follows a similar path, but with a more jagged perspective and frenetic touches. During the hauntingly impressionistic picture, "Remembrance," NYNDK mirrors Ives’ tonal imagery, echoing a sense of unsettled solitude.
Many listeners should recognize "Adagio," from Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, since this and other parts of Grieg’s famous work have been recorded and used extensively in popular culture, merged into movie soundtracks, television ads, comedy sketches and others. "Adagio" is the record’s most refined moment, a sharply detailed item that is fronted by a delicate soprano sax solo by Mathisen.
The other classical-jazz hybrids are less well known but equally resourceful. The title track comes from Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim, whose work for trombone was inspired by Lewis Carroll’s enigmatic long-form poem. "The Hunting of the Snark" opens with Washburne’s throaty trombone and then he is joined by the other players, who resoundingly push and bump along an off-center and modernistic course that leans toward avantgarde yet preserves an adept and metered jazz rhythm.
NYNDK takes on a challenging chromatic direction with a translation of George Perle’s "Scherzo No.2," from Sinfonietta No. 2. Perle was noted for creating a compositional mode using his twelve-tone tonality and during "Scherzo No. 2" the four musicians exuberantly meld jazz’s drive with Perle’s disciplined stability. Again, Washburne gets plenty of room to display his solo skills.Another melodic outing is NYNDK’s version of Carl Nielsen’s 2nd movement from his Symphony No. 2. NYNDK’s nonchalant, waltz-like take reiterates the feel and purpose of Nielsen’s movement, which is based on a young man’s lazy summer idleness. Moller applies some rolling keyboard chords, Per Mathisen expresses his solid stance on bass, and Ole Mathisen adds to the melancholic charm with his temperate clarinet. The ensemble ends with a shortened rendering of Per Norgard’s "Voyage into the Golden Screen," one of the most important Danish classical works of the last century. The five musicians delve ardently into Norgard’s inclement viewpoint, integrating harmonic and rhythmic intricacy.
The intertwining of jazz and classical influences is also revealed on the NYNDK originals. Ole and Per Mathisen present a mysterious, thirty-second duet, "Arne," as a warm-up to "The Hunting of the Snark." The Mathisen’s are coupled with Washburne for the correspondingly withdrawn "Edvard," a meditative musical portrait that precedes Grieg’s "Adagio." The quintet all participate on the up-tempo and quirky character study "George," which prefaces Perle’s "Scherzo No. 2." "Carl" is an introspective interlude featuring low-impact horns interlaid with deep-pocketed bass, which acts as a contrast to the charismatic Nielsen exposition. "Per" is a brief, staccato slice that percolates effectively into the Norgard delineation, and the final miniature audio vignette is the album-closing tribute to Ives, "Charles," that has a tremulous affection. It is an odd but strangely poignant closure. Despite some interesting turnabouts among these original tracks, only "George" is thoroughly engaging as a stand-alone cut.
The Hunting of the Snark demands focus and concentration: it embraces chances and that is not always easy to accept. NYNDK does not hesitate to offer an intellectual or abstract outlook and although they swing they don’t necessarily sustain accessibility. But anyone who has heard and liked NYNDK’s prior releases or is looking for an intriguing classical-jazz synthesis should uncover much of value on The Hunting of the Snark.
1. The Cage
2. 1, 2, 3
5. The Hunting of the Snark
7. Adagio (from Piano Concerto in A Minor)
9. Scherzo No. 2 (2nd Movement)
11. Symphony No. 2 (2nd Movement)
13. Voyage into the Golden Screen
— Doug Simpson